garam masala vs chinese five spice

11 Things I Wish I Knew About Garam Masala vs Chinese Five Spice

A spice mixture finds its place in several cuisines. There are several blends of spices that are unique to different regions globally. Lending a distinctive flavor and aroma to the dishes are two well-known spice mixes – garam masala and Chinese five spice. Let’s have a look at the comparison of garam masala vs Chinese five spice.

What is Garam Masala?

A commonly used spice blend in Indian cuisines, garam masala literally means a hot mix of spices. 

According to Masterchef Pankaj Bhadouria: “It takes only 5 minutes to make the best Garam Masala in the world! It is fresh, fragrant, and highly flavourful! Remember, always add Garam Masala to the dish at the end of cooking for Best Results!”

What is Chinese Five Spice?

A predominantly used spice mixture in almost all branches of Chinese cuisine, the Chinese five spice is a spice mixture of 5 or more spices.

The five spices in question are star anise, cinnamon, cloves, Szechuan peppers, and fennel seeds.

Is Chinese Five Spice Like Garam Masala?

Garam masala is considered the Indian equivalent of the Chinese five spice powder. Both spice blends are pretty similar; both contain fennel, cinnamon, and cloves. However, garam masala includes cardamom and not the star anise.

You’ll probably be interested to read into berbere vs garam masala as well.

Garam Masala vs Chinese Five Spice: Origins

The common form of garam masala originated in North India, where cold winters called for spices that had a warming quality. It is also a commonly used spice blend in the Caribbean, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Nepali, and Pakistani cuisines.

Chinese five spice powder may have been originally used medicinally to balance yin and yang since the number 5 is associated with healing properties. Apart from Chinese cuisines, it is also used in Taiwanese cuisines and in other parts of Asia.

How to Make Chinese Five Spice

The ingredients you’ll need for making the simple Chinese five spice are:

  • 1 tbsp ground fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground Chinese cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 5 – 6 whole star anise
  • 2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns

The steps to follow to prepare this spice blend is:

  1. Take a dry skillet or wok and toast the Sichuan peppercorns on low to medium heat for around 3 minutes.
  2. Grind these toasted peppercorns with star anise in a blender, spice grinder, or pepper mill.
  3. Strain this blended mix to get an even consistency.
  4. Add in the remaining ground ingredients (cloves, Chinese cinnamon, and fennel seeds).
  5. Blend once more to a fine consistency.
  6. Store this spice blend in an airtight container. 

This spice blend adds flavor to many Asian dishes.

Here’s a video showing how to make Chinese five spice. And did you know that it’s less expensive than buying it?

How to Make Garam Masala

For a simple version of garam masala, you’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 4 medium dried bay leaves
  • 3 strands mace
  • 2 – 4 black cardamoms
  • 1 star anise
  • 1/2 small nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 2-inch cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp cloves
  • 2 tbsp green cardamoms
  • 1/4 cup cumin seeds
  • 1/2 cup coriander seeds

To make the garam masala with these ingredients, the steps you have to follow are:

  1. In a pan, add pepper, cloves, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, star anise, bay leaf, and cardamom. 
  2. Roast on low to medium heat till they turn aromatic. Keep this roasted mix aside on a plate.
  3. Next, roast coriander seeds till they smell good. Transfer to the plate.
  4. Finally, roast fennel seeds for about 30 seconds and add cumin. Continue roasting till the cumin gets aromatic. Transfer all to the plate.
  5. Grind these roasted spices to a fine powder.
  6. Sieve and grind the coarse spices again. Store in an airtight jar.

While it is used in fewer amounts in each dish, the health benefits of garam masala make it pretty beneficial to add in.

Garam Masala vs Chinese Five Spice: Uses

Garam masala has a strong flavor and is typically added at the end of cooking for most recipes to season the food and enhance the aroma. Some of the common uses of garam masala are:

  • As a dry rub to meats
  • For most North-Indian dishes, including chicken tikka masala, Indian butter chicken, chana masala, etc.
  • For Indian chicken biryani
  • Sprinkled over soups, stews, and curries over the surface
  • Tempering dals and khichdis
  • Mixed into marinades
  • Sprinkled over pappads 

Chinese five spice finds common use for the following:

  • Recipes for Cantonese roasted duck and beef stew
  • As a spice rub for duck, chicken, seafood, and pork
  • As a marinade for Vietnamese broiled chicken
  • For stir-fry recipes
  • In pressed, seasoned bean curd
  • To make five flower pork

Can I Use Garam Masala Instead of Chinese 5 Spice?

Yes, garam masala is a good substitute for the Chinese five spice. It has a warm and sweet floral flavor with a slight hint of heat.

While you could use it instead of the Chinese five spice, you’ll also get a different flavor in the dish.

Another interesting comparison is sambar masala vs garam masala.

What is a Substitute For Chinese Five Spice?

Some of the simple substitutes for the Chinese five spice include:

  • Star anise
  • Garam masala
  • Ras El Hanout 
  • Baharat (read into baharat vs garam masala)
  • Za’atar
  • Allspice
  • Cayenne pepper + cinnamon + ground cloves

What Can Be Used Instead of Garam Masala?

Garam masala is made of so many different spices; even if you have a couple of these spices, you can get a close flavor substitute. Here are some ideal replacements for garam masala:

  • Curry powder (read into madras curry powder vs garam masala)
  • Cumin, coriander, and cardamom blend (1:2:0.5 ratio)
  • Allspice and cumin (1:4 ratio)
  • Chaat masala (read into chaat masala vs garam masala)
  • Ras El Hanout

Garam Masala vs Chinese Five Spice: Flavor

Garam masala is a warm, fragrant spice blend that is spicy with a hint of sweetness. The complex medley of spices includes sweetness from cinnamon, heat from the black peppercorns, earthy cumin, tanginess from the coriander, and fragrant cardamom.

On the other hand, the five flavors of the Chinese five spice blend – savory, salty, sour, bitter, and sweet, refer to the 5 traditional Chinese elements.

Hopefully, this read on Chinese five spice vs garam masala has provided you with sufficient insights on both these spice blends.

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